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Ten days of trail construction and maintenance doesn’t make you trail expert, but helps to shape your mind, body and soul to what trail construction entails. It gives you what is known by trail professionals as the “Trail Eyes”, a lens for picturing whether you are doing it the right way. Keeping water off the trail is one of the most important trail design elements and the use of water diversions is an effective way of achieving this.

Sahale Arm Mounts (North Cascades)
Sahale Arm Mounts (North Cascades)

It has been proven over time that water on trails shortens the life of the trail and increases maintenance. Every trail expert will do anything possible to avert these gory incidents by maintaining the standard. These are thoughtful lessons we picked from Ben as he journeyed with us to the beautiful North Cascades region. Ben is that same environmental guru at EarthCorps that oversees environmental projects in its various forms.

The North Cascades are a section of the Cascade Range of western North America. They span the border between the Canadian province of British Columbia and the U.S. state of Washington and are officially named in the U.S. and Canada as the Cascade Mountains. The U.S. section of the North Cascades and the adjoining Skagit Range in British Columbia are most notable for their dramatic scenery and challenging mountaineering, both resulting from their steep, rugged topography.

We camped at the North Cascades National Park and drove 30 minutes to our place of primary assignment every day. Our task is to install Check Dams, do some brushing and clear drains on the pyramid lake trail. The last three days of the trip was lovely as we did some maintenance work (brushing and drainage) on Sahale Arm and Jack Mountain trail.

Check Dams or steps are usually put in place to stabilise trail segments that are being gutted by erosion. It’s a cross-tread barrier, made of a log (or laid rock) 6 to 8 inches in diameter buried at least 2/3 its diameter in the tread at a right angle to the trail. The Check Dam’s function is to slow water velocity enough to cause the water to deposit its load of soil and gravel behind the dam, thus maintaining the tread level.

Clearing and brushing, on the other hand, refers to the cutting and removal of all living and dead vegetation using 10 feet height and 4 feet on each side of the tread centerline standard. After keen observation and rigorous study, we started building the steps and ensured that we use our trail eyes to meet the standard. We were able to install 58 to 60 Check Dams, clear all drains and did half a mile brushing on pyramid lake trail.

The most gratifying aspect of this project was seeing hikers appreciating our work and giving feedback. Luk, the ranger in charge of the project really liked our work and remarked, “You are the best and most coordinated set of volunteers have ever worked with”. Luk is a man to see and work with if you are chanced to visit the North Cascades National Park. He is humane, simple and down-to-earth.

Adnane’s crew is one crew to beat when it comes to cooperation, commitment and paying attention to details. We always work hard and give in our very best to every project. We act like sisters and brothers without borders and put aside our differences to always achieve the desired goal. We really enjoyed the company of Jordan on the crew as we missed Abby and Gabi. Robyn, Emma, Gabi, and Abby are not just beautiful, but they all matched brain with beauty. The crew leader (Adnane) is a man of high intellect and fun to be with.

Our journey to the North Cascades created a window of opportunity to meeting amazing people and seeing beautiful sites. We will not forget so soon the other Youth Corps group that we shared space with at the park. It is true they are deaf and dumb, but their smartness and creativity are one to marvel at. They taught us different sign languages and showed us how life can be more meaningful if we put aside our differences. Truly, there is much ability in disability.

By Alabede Surajdeen (Environmental Restoration International Exchange Fellow at EarthCorps, Seattle, Washington, USA; @BabsSuraj; alabedekayode@gmail.com)

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